Meredith Monk at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center by Carolyn Kelemen

Meredith Monk:  shaking off the old notions

It’s often difficult to shake off the pre-conceived notions and expectations of what a particular dance concert is going to be like. I am not exactly clear on what I expected Meredith Monk to deliver last night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, but I came away with the feeling that I had been reached and moved.

Meredith Monk contemplates for her latest work, 'On Behalf of Nature.' Photo by  Babeth VanLoo.
Meredith Monk contemplates for her latest work, ‘On Behalf of Nature.’ Photo by Babeth VanLoo.

Leave it to MacArthur Genius award-winner Monk to find a new project for her creative talents, On Behalf Of Nature, an “ecological art work,” as she puts it. Performed by Monk, three musicians (who dance), and four other members of her company called The House, here’s an extraordinary work. Last night’s audience (lots of grey-haired folks mixed with college students) appeared mesmerized both by her live performance and the subject matter she chose. The memory of her accepting praise from her peers and admirers – she with her signature braids hanging down to her waist and smiling as the capacity crowd cheered – is still vivid.

At 71, Monk has been exhilarating us with her eloquent pieces that include music, movement, and vocal sounds, well, since as long as I’ve been writing a dance column. She has been proclaimed both a “magician of the voice” and “one of America’ coolest composers.” Monk has long been known as a “choreographer” but in later years more as a “composer.” For me, though, she represents pure modern dance.

Watching her reach out to the audience with a simple arm gesture or falling to the floor in a contracted body movement, I saw dance a la Martha Graham. When she stood center stage and moved forward with such grace and dignity, she showed us her dance training at Sarah Lawrence with Beverly Blossom and other modern icons. At times she resembled feisty, socially conscious Helen Tamaris or even nature-loving Isadora Duncan who shared that same spark of adventure that’s obvious in Monk’s ecological opera.

Most folks stayed for the post-show discussion where Monk talked about her latest work and reminisced on previous concerts. “What do people want to happen in a new work…what does this piece need to make a difference?” she asked the audience. Then answered her own question, “I’ve been thinking of our world so much lately and how precious nature is. So as an artist, I wanted to make piece that was environmentally friendly.”  It was mentioned during the discussion that the costumes (designed by Yoshio Yabara) were re-cycled, and she used movements from past works and clips from a video she created for her film, Book of Days.

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, with no intermission.

Meredith Monk. Photo courtesy of Jewish Currents.
Meredith Monk. Photo courtesy of Jewish Currents.

Meredith Monk performed for one night only on May 5. 2013 at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center – University of Maryland Stadium Drive, in College Park, MD.

On Behalf of Nature will tour to the Edinburgh International Festival this summer, and, perhaps, will return to the University of Maryland for an installment of another wonderful creation. Let’s hope.

Meanwhile, though, UMCP remains the bastion of modern dance for its productions, presentations, and development of our unique American art form. In the past few years, we have seen phenomenal performances by such noted contemporary dance artists such as Bill T. Jones, Margie Jenkins, Trish Brown, among others.

The 2013-14 Extraordinary Dance Season brings back San Francisco’s Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in Times Bones September 13th and 14th, followed by David Dorfman Dance Come, and Back Again November 1st and 2nd,  and David Rousseve/Reality’s world premiere of Stardust January 31st through February 1, 2013. To purchase a season subscription, call (301) 405-ARTS, or purchase them online.

Meredith Monk’s website.


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